Upstairs, Downstairs: The style behind the series

The BBC’s 2010 adaptation of the popular 70s sitcom Upstairs, Downstairs didn’t achieve the same rave reviews afforded to the likes of Downton Abbey; but for a fashion geek like me who gets a boner for anything remotely inter-war, it was a visual treat.

I actually enjoyed the remake a lot – and although the storyline was slightly all over the place, I feel this might perhaps be because they’re planning to make a few more in 2011?? Anyway, monkeys and suicides apart, the styling for the show is obviously what I’m here to talk about. Although the 30s doesn’t get me going in quite the same fashion as the 1920s, it’s still pretty awesome.

Here are all my favourite fashion looks from the show – be forewarned; it’s long.

Continue reading “Upstairs, Downstairs: The style behind the series”

What to pack for a trip on the Orient Express

I spent the first proper day of the Christmas holidays watching ITV’s charming documentary, David Suchet on the Orient Express. David is, of course, best known for playing Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and to celebrate the new adaptation – due to be screened on Christmas Day – the bright sparks at ITV sent him off on a jaunt to Istanbul aboard the luxurious train.

It wasn’t a particularly hard-hitting doc, but as holiday eye candy, it doesn’t get much better. It was basically one hour of David lolling around in his silk pajamas, drinking cocktails, surrounded by splendid art deco marquetry, recounting tales about Josephine Baker. All the romance of a cross-country train journey, combined with the elegance and style of the 1920s… DREAMY.

You can watch it online here; and don’t forget to watch/record the new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express at 9pm on Christmas Day…

For now, I have been fantasizing about my own adventure on the Orient Express. Perhaps, with David Suchet. Here’s what I’d pack;

Shipton & Heneage Handmade Slippers, £169; Autograph Satin Pajamas, £30;Vintage Travel Cocktail Set, £SOLD, Vintage Westclox Travalarm, $42; Penhaligons Bluebell Eau de Toilette, £50; Vintage Chanel Train Case, $1,695

Fashion Sourcebook 1920s

Hello, world.

We’re now at day seven without television or internet services (that’s V-I-R-G-I-N-SPACE-M-E-D-I-A, OK?), but instead of complaining (well, one phone call per day), I’m getting on with LIFE. Life being, endless Jeeves and Wooster boxset viewings, Mad Men, and BOOKS.

While researching one particular book for work, I discovered a publishing company I hadn’t come across before. Fiell Publishing was set up by Charlotte and Peter Fiell in April of this year. With 20 years at Taschen behind them, it’s not such a surprise that Fiell focusses on beautiful, design-led books, with a particular specialism in the arts.

As I browsed the site, I came across one book in particular that set my heart racing, to the point that I actually had minor palpitations. Guess what? It’s about the 20s.

Fashion Sourcebook: 1920s is edited by Charlotte Fiell and Emmanuelle Dirix, and comprehensively documents the fashion of the era in 600 awe-inspiring illustrations and photographs. “A cornucopia of beautiful clothes,” as they put it. Swoonsome.

Alas, it’s not out until May next year, but I guess that just means someone can buy me it for my birthday.

One other book Fiell are publishing is Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything by Stephen Bayley. It looks like another classic – discussing what ugly means, whether beauty could exist without ugliness, and more importantly, who decides what ugly is? Not sure when that one is out, but I will be keeping my eyes well and truly peeled.

PS While I’m talking 20s (when aren’t I?), I want to express my dismay at the casting of Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in the upcoming Baz Luhrmann Gatsby remake. I’m with Time (click the link) on this one.

PPS If Virgin Media don’t sort my TV out by Sunday, I will raise MERRY HELL. Lest we forget, Sunday is the day Any Human Heart airs.

Any Human Heart is coming soon omg

The Channel 4 adaptation of William Boyd’s brilliant Any Human Heart is due to start this month, and aside from The Wire and Mad Men (and the new Alan Partridge show)… I don’t think I’ve been so excited about a TV show in a long time. So excited, in fact, that I risked being pushed on the track at St Pancras to take this picture when I saw the advert.

I wish I could say that I’ve loved the book for years, but the truth is I only read it for the first time last month. I don’t know how it never appeared on my radar before; it’s right up my street – and I don’t just mean because it is quite 20s-heavy. It’s also 30s heavy, 40s heavy, 50s heavy… You basically get the entire 20th century through the eyes of one sex-obsessed, slightly unhinged author.

It’s a brilliant story, and you still have time to read it before the show starts on November 21. I suggest you do. Logan Mountstuart is a fascinating man…

Here’s the trailer;


Style icons: The Viceroy’s Daughters

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it through my extensive reading list in Madrid. I actually only read one book – the one I’d started before I even left, The Viceroy’s Daughters. On the plus side, the lack of reading was down to the mass of good stuff that I did, and I now have a selection of fine books to indulge in for the next few weeks of commuting.

The Viceroy’s Daughters covers the lives and loves of the Curzon sisters – Baba, Cimmie and Irene. These are by no means new names to me – Cimmie was married to Tom Moseley, and without giving too much away, there is plenty of other Mitford ‘involvement’ throughout the book. They’re fascinating characters, but actually, not always particularly nice. I think the most badly behaved sister of all was the youngest, Baba (real name Alexandra Naldera Curzon; Baba means baby in India, where she was raised). Despite her general unpleasantness, she is definitely the most stylish sister.

Taking photos of photos in old books results in the poor imagery you see before you, but I felt the need to note for prosperity how stylish Baba was. There are so few pictures online, I thought I’d do my bit to add a few more.

Baba on her wedding day in 1925, with her long-suffering husband, Fruity. Not his real name, I hasten to add. I love this 20s wedding gown – the flowers on the train are incredible.

Fruity, Baba and Monica Sheriffe hunting in Melton Mowbray. Baba’s coat is incredible, and I love the little lace up booties she’s wearing. I don’t know much about Monica Sheriffe over there on the right, but I do like her furry mitts and houndstooth jacket.

Here’s Baba and ‘friend’ Jock Whitney in 1934. It’s a piss poor picture, but she has an amazing hat and collar here.

Here’s Baba in 1975 accepting her CBE. Worst picture of all, but still. aged 71, in her furry finery.

Modan garu: the Japanese flappers

Last week I had an exciting milestone moment. For one exciting minute, I thought I’d read every book available on the subject of flappers and the society set in the 1920s. No more wasting every paycheck on Amazon, no more boring everyone with tales of the Ponsonbys and Fitzgeralds for me, no sir!

Then I picked up an old copy of InStyle in the office and read an interview with Erdem. In the piece he talked about his inspiration, noting how Japan’s modan garu had been a huge influence. The modan garu were, he explained, the Japanese equivalent of flappers.

Wait, what?

Oh that’s right, in my pig ignorance it hadn’t quite occurred to me that the flapper movement spread beyond the US and UK. Wow, how racist am I?

Obviously my first port of call for research was Wikipedia, where I discovered that I was even more of a hick than I thought possible. Joining the modan garu (or ‘modern girls’) were India’s kallege ladki, Germany’s neue Frauen, France’s garçonnes, and China’s modeng xiaojie. I’m sure there are more. The one thing all these women have in common is a desire to be independent – both financially and emotionally, as Wiki so eloquently puts it.

It’s kind of been a bittersweet discovery. Bitter in that I’m bitter I didn’t know about them before and sweet in that I now have something else to educate myself on. I’m taking it easy on myself and starting out with modan garu – largely because there seems to be the most reading material, although I still can’t find a massive amount as these poor Google-based collages prove. Top tip: searching モダンガール yields more results, I’ve found. The 1924 novel Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki is said to have popularised the term ‘modern girl’, in much the same way as my old pal Fitzgerald ‘invented’ the flapper. I bought that one today.

Excitingly, I’ve also picked up a book called The Modern Girl Around the World. This academic-ish text includes essays from various authors on young women in the 1920s, living pretty much everywhere except England and America. I can’t wait for this beast to arrive. Prepare yourselves for more boring posts about the interwar period, heading in this direction soon.

CB’s Young Ladies and their awesome costumes

Charles Blake Cochran was one of the great showmen of the early 1900s, starting life as an actor but making his career eventually as a publicist for other entertainers. His most famous client was Noel Coward but in one of the many hundreds of books about the 1920s that I’ve been reading lately (yes still), I came across CB’s Young Ladies, a dancing troupe that he managed who performed at the Trocadero in the interwar period. That’s the Trocadero as was, of course, not with Rainforest Cafe and Ripley’s. These chicks don’t dig animatronic orang-utans and big elastic band balls, you can just tell.

It would be crass and, more importantly, incorrect to compare these gals with strippers or even ‘dancers’ in modern clubs, but essentially their pivotal role was to look nice, entertain and keep the men coming back for more. Still, at least they were talented and graceful and were judged on such things as their posture and composition rather than the size of their bosoms.

I love these pictures of them that are part of a set on Getty. Can you imagine the bros at Spearmint Rhino enjoying their surf and turf being entertained by gals in bin bag-esque ball gowns? With matching turbans? And nutso glasses. They’re all so stunningly elegant, it’s hard to believe that these girls were considered the bottom of society, the type of woman that no man could take home to his family. Look at ’em! More to come when I have time. For now, a trip to Brighton beckons…

If you click HERE you can see CB’s gals and some of their contemporaries in action – sorry, it’s un-embeddable.

Strange but true; Charles died after getting in a bath of scalding water.